It seemed nonsensical that Qin Yining would be so kindhearted as to help Gu Shixiong. Why was she willing to bear the risk of introducing him to the Lu second master?
Was it really because both of them were from Great Yan?
But if the girl had this kind of patriotism to start with, she would’ve agreed to help him long ago. She wouldn’t wait until now.
Inconsistencies abounded in the Qin fourth miss’ performance.
Gu Shixiong’s blood froze in his veins when his thoughts travelled here and he quickly called out to the groomsman, “Stop the carriage!”
The groom twitched with surprise when the old official’s aged voice rasped out shrilly. He hastily jumped off the carriage.
Gu Shixiong clambered down from the carriage and took out a dagger. Making use of the fading light from the setting sun and dim glow of the wind lamps, he pried at the tightly nailed wooden box.
After heavy exertions, he finally pried the lid up and discovered a piece of paper lying inside.
Notes of strangeness rang with increasing volume. He picked up the paper and moved it close to the light for a close look. His heart sank.
It was a hand-drawn map. Rivers, mountains, and creeks crossed it, and clearly labelled were the forests and copses. A circle of vermilion marked a spot in the upper right hand corner.
What map is this?
Gu Shixiong looked carefully at the markings next to the mountains and creeks, trying to decipher any familiar names.
But at this time, a chaotic drumming of hooves sounded from the direction of the Division of the Three Thousand.
The old official started and looked gravely in their direction.
A middle-aged man dressed in a general’s uniform and wearing a dark expression charged at head of forty cavalry. He waved a hand and surrounded Gu Shixiong and the official’s carriage before the latter had the time to react.
His heartbeat raced, but the old official remained as calm and steady as before.
“Who are you and what do you want?!”
The one in the lead didn’t reply. “Give me what you hold in your hand.”
Gu Shixiong frowned. “Why should I do that!”
The general pulled out the sword at his waist. “Hand it over!”
“Hand it over!” Members of the cavalry all unsheathed their swords.
In the dim light, their swords glinted frostily like snow. Gu Shixiong’s calves trembled from fear.
The old official frowned. “Just who are you? If you’re not the one I’m looking for, I won’t easily hand things over. I can see that you’re soldiers, and we’re close to the Division of the Three Thousand. Are you from there? Or are you Minister Cheng’s people?”
“Cut the nonsense! Don’t ask what you shouldn’t ask!”
Based on their reactions, Gu Shixiong understood that the group was indeed from Minister Cheng.
He heaved a sigh of relief. “If you’re from Minister Cheng, you don’t need to take this from me. Bring me to the minister and Lu second master. I’ll hand it to Minister Cheng with both hands.”
The general started and was about to respond when another drumming of hoofbeats came from the direction of the capital. The sound seemed to indicate a party at least a hundred strong, much more than the first group already present.
Gu Shixiong naturally heard the disturbance as well. With how things had developed, he had a few speculations of his own.
The party from the capital swiftly drew near and formed another circle around the perimeter of the one already present. The military officer in the lead called out, “Is Old Master Gu, Gu Shixiong, present? The emperor has issued a decree requesting the senior official for an imperial audience!”
In the first group, the general leaned down with a frown and yanked away the mysterious map and wooden box.
Caught off guard, Gu Shixiong didn’t have time to react before his possessions were taken from him.
“Is Old Master Gu present?” asked the latecomer again.
Gu Shixiong rasped back, “I am.”
“Get out of the way, out of the way!”
Horses jostled against each other as voices yelled and cursed. It would seem that the latecomers were parting the crowds.
Seeing this, the first group retreated and undid their encirclement. Leaving Gu Shixiong to the latecomers, they left.
What else would the old official not understand at this point?
It was the first time ever in his life that he’d fallen so utterly into a trap, and at the hands of a little girl at that!
He was most aware of his own machinations. Seeking out the Qins publicly would elicit the emperor’s attention. But after Qin Yining’s words, he’d stormed off to seek Lu Heng with her token, completely forgetting that he was under surveillance.
With how tense things were in the capital, it would seem that more than one party was keeping an eye on the Qins. The ones who’d just taken his ‘token’ answered to the Minister of Military Affairs, so they more than likely belonged to the Lu faction.
The latecomers had actually been rather polite. They must be the emperor’s men, here to intercept him as they knew they were bringing a ‘token’ to the Division of Three Thousand.
Everyone probably thought that the map in the box was the treasure map!
Gu Shixiong could now talk himself hoarse in denying that was the treasure map, but no one would believe him.
But also, why would he tell anyone where the treasure really was?
“Old Master Gu, please come with us to meet the emperor,” spoke the intimidating officer.
The very image of scared out of his wits, Gu Shixiong trembled and shook as he climbed up into the carriage.
The group set a fast pace back to the palace.
Li Qitian had long received news of Gu Shixiong’s two visits to the Qins. After his second departure, he’d gone home and then hurriedly left to bring something to the Division of the Three Thousand. That was the moment when the emperor knew his plan of using Yuchi Yan as bait had worked.
Old Master Gu was the strategist of the former Great Yan emperor emeritus. A dignified and highly esteemed senior, Li Qitian had long since suspected that Gu Shixiong knew of the treasure’s location.
Unfortunately, while the old man may be lacking in everything else, he was incomparable when it came to playing dumb.
He’d finally nabbed the old man good and proper today! The payoff for his hard work was on its way into his hands.
“Your Majesty, Old Master Gu is here.” Li Guanwen murmured in front of the imperial study door.
“Hurry, show him in.”
“I hear and obey.” The eunuch dismissed himself and quickly brought the old official to the emperor.
Gu Shixiong apprehensively performed the grand gesture of greeting to Li Qitian.
“This humble commoner greets Your Majesty and prays for Your Majesty’s eternal health and prosperity!”
Li Qitian sat rigidly behind his table, enunciating his words with dark clarity, “Old Master Gu, kindly explain to Us why you were in a rush to visit the Division of the Three Thousand before the evening curfew?”
Gu Shixiong kowtowed frantically, “This humble commoner, humble commoner…”
“Dare you not speak the truth when before Us?!” Li Qitian slammed his hand down on the table and shot to his feet.
The old man trembled all over and was startled into tears.
“This humble commoner, humble commoner is innocent! Although Your Majesty might be angered—when the humble commoner knew that the Commandery Prince of Yan was invited into the palace, I looked all over for people to plead for mercy on his behalf. I went to the Qins twice, but Miss Qin was powerless. This old man could only bring the treasure map to the Lus for help, but I didn’t even see a single Lu before their people took the map from me!”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
A double release today to make up for being so busy this month!
Note: the circle of vermilion is obviously the vermilion sand that Qin Yining wanted two chapters ago. A true brush of vermilion comes from the hands of a monk who's blessed it with divine favor.